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Issue #1613      October 2, 2013

Planet earth on the brink

The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, the sea levels have risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. These are some of the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a report released on Friday September 27. Instead of acting responsibly and taking urgent action to slash greenhouse gas emissions and protect human life and the biodiversity of the planet, the climate change deniers in Canberra are hell bent on increasing coal and gas production and business as usual for the big polluters.

The widely accepted international target, which the Abbott government claims to have adopted, is to limit global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrialisation levels.

The Alliance of Small Island States, a grouping of 43 countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, are seeking a 1.5˚C cap on temperature rises. Their slogan is “1.5˚C to stay alive”, one which reflects the reality of millions around the world, not just small island states.

“The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40 percent since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use, change emissions,” the IPCC said in its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.

The IPCC attributes this increase to human activity.

The 1.5˚C temperature rise requires a CO2 emissions cap of 350 parts per million (ppm). The required cap for the 2˚C target is 450 ppm. In 2011 the concentration of CO2 had reached 391 ppm. The report states that an annual reduction in emissions of 10 percent is required to limit temperature rises to 2˚. Australia’s emissions are still rising.

“Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” IPCC Co-Chair Thomas Stocker warned.

The ICPP found that each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, the IPCC says it is likely that 1983–2012 was the warmest 30-year period of the last 1,400 years.

Sea level rising

“The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia. Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by an estimated 19cm,” the IPCC said. Depending on the measures taken, the IPCC forecasts that sea levels could rise by between 28 and 98 cm by the end of the century.

Rises of such magnitude would be catastrophic for millions of people living, not just in the smaller island states, but in many coastal regions including Australia.

Time is running out, even if governments act swiftly to ensure there are substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, a process has been set in train which will continue for centuries to come.

So what is the Abbott government’s response to the report? Environment Minister Greg Hunt says he accepts the IPCC’s findings. But when it comes to action as against words, the government has no intention of doing anything that might stand in the way of the big mining companies and other big polluters.

Climate change denier

PM Tony Abbott is a climate change denier. Climate change and science have been dropped as a ministerial portfolios and the Climate Change Commission (CCC) has been shut down. The Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation are also on the hit list along with the carbon tax (a market-based approach), not that it was likely to achieve a great deal in cutting back emissions or coal and gas production.

The government is not going to let the reality of climate change stand in the way of mining profits. The CCC was not even an advisory body, let alone a decision making body, but the government’s fear of scientific facts, of the truth about climate change reaching the public, is such that it had to kill off a body which simply provides information.

The government chose to shut down the CCC just a couple of days before the release of the IPCC’s report. One of the responsibilities of the CCC was to brief the government and public on the IPCC’s findings. The Commissioners on the CCC have decided to set up a non-government organisation to continue their work and initially contribute their time on a voluntary basis.

Fast-tracking fossil fuels

The federal government says it is intervening to fast-track coal seam gas (CSG) projects in New South Wales in response to the state’s “gas crisis”.

Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane has warned that thousands of jobs could be lost and gas prices could spike in NSW if moves are not taken to unlock CSG reserves. Addressing representatives from the gas industry at an “energy security summit” last week, he said he wanted to see more CSG rigs in place by Christmas.

Macfarlane said he had discussed ways of overcoming resistance to CSG drilling from farmers and other landowners with NSW Liberal Party Premier Barry O’Farrell.

The government wants to “harmonise” coal seam gas laws across Australia, including a “one-stop shop” arrangement for CSG approvals. That would cut local, state and territory governments out of the equation and make it easier to ignore environmental, social and economic consequences.

He said there would be “cooperation between all people involved in the gas industry”. The intent is to shut out local government, and the farmers and communities whose water would be poisoned, land destroyed and air polluted.

PM Tony Abbott pointed to Queensland’s Liberal National Party government as an example of how to overcome opposition to drilling.

“I’m not surprised [Ian] Macfarlane is championing Queensland’s regime,” Greens mining spokesperson Larissa Waters said. “Under those laws we’ve seen the three big coal and gas companies steamroll over our best food-producing land and trash our Great Barrier Reef with massive ports in Gladstone Harbour.”

The rapid expansion of CSG and coal mining, is just one aspect of the government’s criminal disregard for the planet and the future of human life.

They have no plans for the development of alternative sustainable renewable energy sources. Nor have they plans for serious measures to phase out old coal power stations or coal mining, let alone to protect the workers and communities who depend on these industries.

Instead of planning and action they have a half-baked market-based scheme which will fall far short of what is required and cost taxpayers money that would have been better spent on research and development of alternative energy sources.

Australia has the potential to develop as a food bowl for Asia and beyond but the power of the mining companies is such that our major food producing areas face destruction for short-term mining profits. With the likes of mining billionaire Clive Palmer and other climate change deniers holding the balance of power in the Senate, Australia looks set to continue to be the world’s largest per capita polluter.

The government can turn its back on climate change and ignore the impact of mining on water supplies, food production and the environment as much as it likes. But it cannot override reality, the scientific reality of its suicidal policies and inaction.

The government’s stated target of a five percent reduction by 2020, compared with emission levels in 2000 is too little, too late, even if it were achieved, which is unlikely.

Australia needs to plan for a future that does not rely on fossil fuels for export or electricity generation. That means no new coal-fired power stations or coal mines, and no expansion to existing fossil fuel power stations or mines. It also requires the immediate axing of all fossil fuel rebates and other forms of support for fossil fuel use and production.

Government planning and investment is essential, as is the development of programs to assist coal dependent communities to make the transition to other more sustainable sources of economic prosperity. The mining and energy sectors should be nationalised so that government has full control.

Australia also has a responsibility to assist the Island states whose lands are already disappearing under rising oceans. This includes mitigation measures and opening our doors to those displaced.

We only have one planet, no second chances. Inaction is criminal and suicidal, promotion of fossil fuels is beyond belief and totally unjustifiable in this age of scientific knowledge. The mob in Parliament are living in the dark ages and must be stopped before it is too late.

Next article – Editorial – The Party for the Future

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